When Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979, members of the Baha’i faith once again faced persecution. On a single night in December, 500 Baha’i homes were burned to the ground. One belonged to the family of Parivash Rohani, an 18-year-old girl preparing for college.
“My parents were very concerned,” Rohani says. “They were very worried about what would happen to me in this new, fanatical regime.” They sent their only daughter to India with two cousins, and when by 1982 the regime had yet to fail, Rohani, by then married, became a refugee—stateless. A year later, 10 of her Baha’i friends were executed in Iran.
“I always say, coming to America, for us it’s like a kid in a candy shop, because although we liked Iran, we never enjoyed the same life as other Iranians because of our religious beliefs,” says Rohani, who resettled in the United States in 1985 and moved to Maine. “In America, we have the same rights as everyone else.”
In America, the couple needed U.S. credentials. So Rohani, who had planned to study law in Iran, became a nurse, working for years in intensive care. Her husband, who had been completing a PhD in economics in India, became a computer analyst. “A lot of options were open to us,” she says. “We just had to manage our situation.” They raised four children, all of whom have pursued higher education in medical fields.
After moving from Auburn to Portland three years ago, Rohani has dedicated herself to volunteerism. She presents documentaries on the Baha’i, a centuries’ old religion that accepts the divine origin of all faiths but that is labeled heretical by the Islamic Republic of Iran. She advocates for educational and employment opportunities for female immigrants, volunteers at naturalization ceremonies, helps in a soup kitchen, and works in high schools as a regional advisor for the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute.
I always say to my husband, I don’t know how to give back to this amazing community who were there for us when we needed them. We have to do more, because we have received so much.”
“I always say to my husband, I don’t know how to give back to this amazing community who were there for us when we needed them,” she says. “We have to do more, because we have received so much.”